What is Process Documentation?
Streamlining processes and making practical work more efficient is the focus of the global industry at the moment. Automation, machine learning, and Agile processes are at the center of this movement. However, in order to optimize a process, you need to clearly define and describe it first. This is where process documentation comes in.
In this article, we'll go over what process documentation entails, how to write a process document, the benefits of having documented processes, and tips on writing an effective document. If you're interested in learning via video then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
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What Exactly is Process Documentation?
Process documentation is a detailed, step-by-step description of any type of business process.
It is a series of preliminary documents that are used to describe a process flow and specifics in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand manner. It functions as a more focused process mapping guide from the perspective of the employees invested in the process.
Basically, it's used to help all major and minor stakeholders get a solid understanding of how a business or technical process works.
The documents included in process documentation are:
- Usage tutorials
- Policy papers
- Operation checklists
- Visual media (screenshots, flowcharts, and diagramming)
- Process maps/virtual workflow
- Links to other sources
The purpose of the documentation is to open the process up to all stakeholders and invite critical input for process improvement. Doing this helps departments optimize processes and instill consistency in the stakeholders.
One of the most important types of technical writing, process documentation could have varying templates, depending on the company that's producing it.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Process Document
Here's a detailed guide on how to put together a process document for any department.
1) Define the Process
Before you begin to develop documents, decide on which process you should document first as a priority.
Once done, define it clearly and with as much detail as you can, including the purpose of the document, how it will benefit the company, and how the process itself can be improved over time.
Create a separate document with these details in it for guidance during the primary business process documentation.
2) Describe Process Scope
Once you have a clear description of the project and its purpose, work on defining the short and long-term scope of the project.
The project scope consists of basic details of the tasks, the number of tasks, and whether the task will cover a single business or technical process, or a series of processes.
The scope should also be its own separate document, especially for more complicated processes that will have a bigger impact on business outcomes.
3) Establish Process Boundaries
Describe the parameters and boundaries of the actual process, including the starting points and end points, as well as what causes the process to start and end.
Make sure to define each trigger in detail. This will allow all the stakeholders to plan successive processes around this one and gauge if the process can be streamlined via automation.
Additionally, define the start and end point of each step of the process. This will allow the technical staff to see if the number of steps can be reduced to reach the final outcome that's already been decided.
If you're interested in becoming an expert at creating process documentation, then check out our technical writing certification courses.
4) Determine the Process Inputs and Outputs
Explain the number and types of resources needed to perform each step of the process and the quantitative outcome of each step.
This will help finance and resource management team members determine how they should structure the resource input for maximum gain. It will also help project the cost-to-benefit ratio for each process step.
In the long run, process owners and company leadership will be able to track these numbers for current process optimization and make smarter process decisions.
5) List and Describe the Process Steps
Once you have the process foundation, start brainstorming the activities and operations needed to complete each step of the process.
While documenting, some companies take this step before establishing process boundaries. This may be according to their own standard operating procedures, although it's preferred to establish boundaries first so that any step doesn't take up more time and resources than needed.
The brainstorming part of the process should include all the people who have extensive know-how of the company's business needs, documenting SOPs, and all the different processes that are currently ongoing.
6) Organize Steps in a Sequence
The next step is to organize the steps into the optimal sequence to create a smooth workflow.
To do this, consider which step follows which and come up with ways to reduce the gap between each step if you can by implementing more efficient activities.
While doing this, make sure to identify which steps logically follow each other and which go together as parallel activities. Group the latter ones together and in case a step contains more than one activity (or two closely conjoined ones), break it up into two steps.
7) List the Stakeholders
Describe all the staff members involved in the process (and process documentation). Define their roles in the process and mention their official titles, as well as their individual progress.
While listing the personnel, make sure to clarify each person’s roles according to their referential capacity, in case they want to reference the document at a later date.
8) Visualize the Full Process
An important part of creating an effective document is visualizing the full process and optimizing it from a visual standpoint.
This will create a mental flowchart of the process in your mind, as well as improve the readability and clarity of the entire process for everyone involved.
In case the documentation is graphics-heavy, create a uniform image of the full process in your mind and make all the charts, metrics, and diagrams according to one design principle.
9) Clarify Process Flow Exceptions
Keeping future process modifications in mind, it’s important to mention any and all steps that might be exceptions to the ones listed in the documentation.
This is a future-proofing method that opens the process up to streamlining in the future. If a new tech product or automation measure comes up, process owners need to be able to implement that into the process without causing extensive revisions.
10) Add Measurements and Control Points
Identify the areas in the process that are most prone to risks and insert control points to help key process personnel monitor (and modify) the process as needed.
Additionally, create measurement procedures that determine the overall effectiveness of the process. This will enable key stakeholders to track the performance of the process and implement improvements that best suit the process flow.
11) Test and Review the Process
Once you have a full process at hand, bring together all the stakeholders and review the documentation set.
Make the process map open to suggestions and critique and look for any missing steps, miscalculations, any steps out of order, or general errors. Once the process is finalized, test out the process and check if anything is missing, or if it’s consuming more resources than necessary.
12) Open the Document for Optimization
Lastly, take the completed process documentation set and send it to technical experts for review and optimization.
Your process documents are a living entity as they guide the process along and make everyone involved aware of what the process will look like at every stage. Make sure that you treat it as a living document and continue to make adjustments on it as you find more streamlined activities.
Top Process Documentation Benefits
Aside from the obvious increase in workflow streamlining and allowing companies to improve their business process management, process documentation has a variety of benefits for companies of any size.
Here are a few important ones:
- Process documentation helps bring team all involved stakeholders on the same page regarding a specific business process. It provides a synchronized view of the process steps, which instills consistency.
- It helps identify inefficiencies and process bottlenecks that might go unnoticed if the company were to directly implement a process. In real-time it lays all the decision points clearly in front of anyone who might have suggestions as to improve the process.
- By documenting a process, companies can save time on current and future operations by removing any confusion regarding any of the steps and providing all stakeholders with a clear view of the company vision.
- Documentation improves the overall quality of the processes as well as the outcome of the processes. This means that companies can improve how they approach each step of the process, create better solutions to complicated procedures, and reduce costs.
- It helps with training and onboarding new employees, demonstrating their job roles more clearly, and giving them a virtual process map that helps them adapt quicker. Even when the employees gain some experience with the company, they can refer back to the documents for more process knowledge.
Additionally, documentation reduces the risk of intra-process failure by a significant margin. This is due to the transparent nature of documentation and how it allows experts to have a say in optimization and risk mitigation.
How to Produce Detailed and Effective Process Documentation
Here is how you can improve your documentation process and generate more efficient processes.
- Use Process Documentation Tools: Use one of the many BPM and process documentation tools such as Lucidchart, and documentation software such as Microsoft Visio and Excel.
- Make it Concise: Create documents that are as streamlined and to the point as possible. If something can be removed without affecting the overall quality of the process or the outcome, remove it.
- Update When Needed: In case the process requires a new step or you have discovered a more efficient way to complete a step, make sure to implement the update in the documentation in a timely manner.
- Store in a Centralized Location: Always have a centralized storage location for all process documents and supplementary documents, such as diagrams, case studies, and more. Several process documentation tools provide access to singular cloud storage as an enterprise package.
- Use Visual Aids: Make the documentation visually appealing and insert graphics to explain metrics and numbers better. Furthermore, use color-coding and multiple platforms to explain different activity levels.
- Synchronize with Company Standards: Make sure that all the documentation is unique to the company’s operational standards and processes. Customize the design of the documentation according to company design standards as well.
- Add Swim Lane Diagrams: Distinguish the different roles, process steps, timelines, and resource input by adding swim lane diagrams where appropriate.
- Try Optimized Cost-Cutting: Look for more cost-effective activities and programs that don’t affect the quality of the documentation or the intended outcome.
- Create Templates and Style Guides: If you have a documentation process that has worked for you, or one that you have recently optimized, use that as a template or create a style guide out of it to help new recruits start using it immediately.
- Create Individual Documents: Instead of compiling everything into one big document, create multiple smaller ones for different processes. If you think one process deviates from another even slightly, create separate documentation for it.
In addition to the above, use any existing documents to reinforce your documentation and add value to it.
Existing documents could include interview transcripts, case studies, records, field diaries of project stakeholders, and any other documented process knowledge that has been accumulated over time.
Regardless of how many processes are ongoing at any one time, process documentation should be a common and mandatory practice at any company. It’s one of the best ways to ensure that all business processes have some measure of future-proofing.
In conclusion, make sure to utilize the documentation set as an invaluable asset and give it just as much importance as other sets of paperwork.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.